'Sisters Rosensweig' is a rewarding, heartfelt story

April 14, 1994|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Sun Theater Critic

Wendy Wasserstein's "The Sisters Rosensweig" is a play in which everything is recognizable -- on the surface.

When the curtain goes up at the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre, designer John Lee Beatty's chintz-covered drawing room set elicits appreciative applause.

The main characters seem familiar, too. There's Sara, a driven, assimilated Jewish-American banker living in London, played by Mariette Hartley with the exacting propriety this compulsive character demands.

And there's her sister, Gorgeous, bedecked in label-bearing designer knockoffs. In London leading a tour from her Newton, Mass., Temple Beth El sisterhood, Gorgeous is portrayed by Caroline Aaron with the irrepressible exuberance befitting a grown woman whose favorite adjective is "funsy."

And then there's Merv, a New York "faux" furrier enamored with )) Sara. Played by Charles Cioffi as a teddy bear of a nice guy, you can understand why Gorgeous can't resist pinching his cheeks.

However, the joy of Wasserstein's poignant comedy -- thoughtfully directed by Daniel Sullivan -- is that it goes beyond appearances. It strips away stereotypes and looks into the characters' hearts, uncovering truths they themselves have been avoiding.

The play takes place on Sara's 54th birthday, which she is celebrating by giving herself a dinner party. In addition to those already mentioned, the dinner is attended by her youngest sister, Pfeni (Joan McMurtrey), a globe-trotting journalist who has traded political reporting for travel writing; Pfeni's bisexual lover (Richard Frank), an internationally famous theater director; Sara's teen-age daughter, Tess (Debra Eisenstadt); Tess' working-class revolutionary boyfriend (Barry McEvoy); and Sara's official escort (Ian Stuart), a pompous, right-wing former member of Parliament.

During this party and its aftermath, the characters not only learn about each other, but also about themselves. Gorgeous, who is the host of a radio advice show, nearly drives her sisters to distraction babbling about her life as the ideal suburban wife and mother. But when she reveals the truth about her situation, it brings dignity to a woman even her own sisters have been too ready to dismiss.

In fact, it would be difficult to say what's more touching in this play -- the bond that is re-forged among the Rosensweig sisters or the romance that Merv kindles in Sara, a repressed banker who has attempted to lock her feelings in a safe deposit box and throw away the key.

However, "The Sisters Rosensweig" is such an expansive play -- at nearly three hours perhaps a bit too expansive -- that it has plenty of room for emotional revelations. This cast makes those revelations credible and heartwarming.

"The Sisters Rosensweig," which is still running on Broadway, also happens to be the closest Wasserstein has come to writing in the traditional style of the well-made play. But in its quiet way, and under its conventionally glossy surface, this drawing room comedy is surprisingly passionate and warm. It makes you feel, as Sara and Merv do in the end, that "there are real possibilities in life."

THEATER REVIEW

What: "The Sisters Rosensweig"

Where: Morris A. Mechanic Theatre, Hopkins Plaza

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; matinees 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays; through May 8. Audio-described performances 2 p.m. April 16 and 8 p.m. April 19; sign-interpreted performances 8 p.m. April 20 and 2 p.m. April 23

Tickets: $17.50-$42.50

9- Call: (410) 625-1400; TDD: (410) 625-1407

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